Grapes of Change: Coteaux Les Cèdres du Liban

Turning weed to wine in Lebanon. Helping 280 Lebanese farmers in the Bekaa region go legal, by replacing cannabis crop with viticulture.

Photo of Maya Masri
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Fair Trade Lebanon

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $1mil - $5mil

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1,000 - 5,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • Lebanon

Headquarters location: City

Hazmieh, Facing Mekhitarist School, Hourani Center, 2nd floor.

Location(s) of impact

Lebanon, North Bekaa Region Villages: Deir al-Ahmar, Btad’i, Aynata, Barqa, al-Yamouni, al-Safra, Bishwat, al-Zarazir, al-Kunaysah, Shlifa, Mcheirfe


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Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

In the North of the Beqaa region, the Lebanese state has had a hard job establishing its authority. Fields of poppies and cannabis were still stretched endlessly (on 16,000 ha). Lebanon first launched a large-scale effort to destroy cannabis fields in 1992, after the end of the civil war. The war itself was a boon for the country’s illicit drug trade, as farmers grew and exported massive amounts of hashish and opium. All government attempts to find legal alternative crops for local farmers failed.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Turn weed to wine by helping Lebanese farmers in the Beqaa go legal, in replacing cannabis crop with viticulture and improving their lives by increasing their income through the cultivation of grapes. In the year 2000, 280 farmers from 11 villages across the Deir el Ahmar region, created the "Heliopolis Cooperative" backed by the technical support and grants given by the French department of L’Oise. Since 2006, Fair Trade Lebanon is supporting them to access markets. The goal was to abandon the cultivation of illicit crops and replace them with legal and lucrative farming of vines, specifically of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Caladoc. Grown on the rocky soil of the Beqaa Valley, the grapes have been cultivated organically, under ago-climatic conditions ideal for the production of grapes and wine of good quality. This type of farming helped to preserve water resources since vines do not require irrigation, thus it naturally fought against desertification.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Our initiative has improved the livelihood of a disadvantaged rural population in the Beqaa by insuring decent income to 280 farmers and over 430 families in 11 villages and protecting its younger generation from the dangers of drugs. The cooperative has been offered a viable economic model through Fair Trade principles and channels. Commercialization of the total quantity of grapes has enabled an increased income for farmers. Besides, this initiative promotes religious nondiscrimination by having Muslim and Christian communities working convivially together. Environmental impact of our initiative is valuable in its promotion of the richness and the uniqueness of this local produce, growing organic grapes, fighting against rural exodus, and preventing desertification by the conservation of natural resources especially water, through the cultivation of non-irrigated crops. Besides, the cooperative has recently been selected by UNIDO to determine their environmental footprint (PEF).

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Today, our initiative raised the amount of cultivated land during the past few years to 2,100 acres, cultivated by 280 farmers. Those farmers are members of the cooperative’s general assembly and belong to the 11 villages. The cooperative is also working on a plan to expand the cultivated area to 12,000 acres after providing the necessary plants, and is going to establish a collective winery at a total cost of $3 million whenever the size of the cultivated land reaches 4,000 acres. This is aimed to increase the farmers’ income since they will be partners in this winery through the farmers’ contribution with 5% of their production revenues. The main source of income is the distribution to Fair Trade channels (local and international markets, UK, Japan...)

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Our initiative is a unique and vital project for farmers, and it can be classified as a pioneer and innovative initiative that is unparalleled as it replaces drug agriculture with viticulture. It is not only about growing grapes, it is also about cultivating the Lebanese culture of wine, and supporting small farmers to take pride in their work in a field that offers great growth potential, and in a market, that is already growing rapidly beyond our national borders. It is promoting Fair Trade.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

“For every hashish plant, we will plant a vine.” This was the slogan chosen by the vine-farmers of the "Heliopolis Cooperative" seventeen years ago. And their risky enterprise paid off generously. For today, the cooperative farms over 240 hectares and yields 700 tons of grapes for wine-making. Growing grapes in their ancestral land has proven to be more lucrative, leaving the farmers with a clean conscience, and a harvest yielding twice the one-time income from cannabis.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Upon recommendation from others


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jonathan Litscher

Wonderful to see a sensible approach to managing drug cultivation - give the producers viable alternatives! Congratulations on this initiative.

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